National Eagle Center's iconic 'ambassador' Harriet dies

Harriet, the National Eagle Center's iconic "senior eagle ambassador," a creature beloved by school children and a fixture on Minnesota's Support Our Troops license plate, has died.

Harriet arrived at the Wabasha, Minn., eagle center in 2000 and helped raise its profile nationally with appearances on NBC's "Today Show" and "Tonight Show."

In 2007, Harriet appeared in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the removal of the bald eagle from the federal endangered species list, the center said Thursday as it announced "with a heavy heart" that Harriet had been euthanized at the University of Minnesota Raptor Center.

She was 35, which is quite old for an eagle, the center added.

"We believe the kindest thing to do was to keep her from a painful end and let her die peacefully in expert care," Rolf Thompson, the National Eagle Center's executive director, said in a statement. "When they told us there is nothing more we can do, we knew that the time had come to let her go."

Shortly after she arrived in Wabasha in 2000, local students were asked to write an essay about a famous American that could be honored. A first-grader wrote an essay about Harriet Tubman, and Harriet the eagle got her name.

Here's more from the eagle center on Harriet's compelling history:

In the spring of 1981, long before she would meet adoring crowds, Harriet hatched in a large eagle's nest 86 feet up in a white pine on Palmer Lake in Vilas County, WI.

In June of that year, a researcher with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) climbed up to the nest and banded this young eaglet.

The small band he placed around her leg would remain there and make it possible to identify this eagle years later when she was struck by a vehicle.

In a remarkable turn of events, the very same WI DNR biologist Ron Eckstein, who had banded her seventeen years earlier received the call to rescue this injured eagle on the road. When he saw the band and checked his records, Eckstein knew that they had met before.

Thousands of visitors over the years came to recognize Harriet by the feather tuft atop her head. This distinctive feather growth was the result of scar tissue and damage to feather follicles that occurred in the vehicle collision.

In that collision in 1998, Harriet also sustained injuries to her left wing and a portion of that wing ultimately had to be amputated. Although she would never fly again, Harriet's determination and spirit would continue to inspire thousands of people.

Harriet became most famous for her work with veterans that ultimately earned her a place on the Minnesota Support Our Troops license plate.

For years, Harriet was a regular visitor to VA hospitals, visiting wounded veterans and giving them the chance to meet our national symbol up close.

Since Harriet herself had visible injuries, she was a ray of hope and a pillar of strength for many wounded warriors.

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